Rangers: Did Kaapo Kakko’s return from injury fix their problems?

New York Rangers right wing Kaapo Kakko (24) in action against the Philadelphia Flyers in the first period at Wells Fargo Center
Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers lost Kaapo Kakko to injury nearly two months ago as the former second-overall draft pick took an awkward fall during a matchup against Buffalo. The winger had experienced a rough start to the season, struggling on the first line until he was ultimately demoted to the bottom six.

Since Kakko had been placed on the LTIR, the Blueshirts were in dire need of a new winger for the first line. Peter Laviolette experimented with many names over the last few weeks, but none were deemed good enough to remain longer than a handful of games. But now, with Kakko back on the ice, he seems to have returned with a new ability to get that top line going.

Kakko has already scored in just his second game back from injury

It’s rare that a player is given an abundance of ice time immediately after returning from such a long time away from the team, but the Rangers opted to throw Kakko right into the mix on the first line when he was ready to go. He failed to record a point in his first game back but was able to score his first goal in nearly two months Tuesday night against Seattle.

Before his injury, Kakko had only netted two goals in 20 games played. It took him just two contests to find the back of the net this time around, as he’s appeared to look better than ever rather quickly after suffering such a brutal lower-body injury.

Kakko’s impact on the Rangers is more than meets the eye

Despite not scoring as much as fans would like to see, Kakko has an incredible impact on the Rangers that is vital to their success. His defensive skills are unmatched, and he consistently finds ways to improve the Blueshirts’ struggling even-strength play. Although Kakko has only scored one goal in these two games since his return, it’s impossible to deny that both Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad have looked better than ever at 5v5 during both of those matchups.

To put things into perspective, the Rangers are 17-4-1 this season when the 22-year-old winger is in the lineup. This statistic alone outlines how much of an impact Kakko has had on the Rangers this season despite having just three goals in the year. As long as Kakko continues his elite defensive play and generates more even-strength offense for Kreider and Zibanejad, the Rangers may not have to trade for a right winger at this year’s deadline after all.

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